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connectionsbooks by Paul Stuart

Your entry to the Connections series

The 3rd and final book of the John Lomax trilogy. Find out what happens to John Lomax, his beloved Leanne and her son, Billy. What does the future hold for The Biker, Ray Quinn?


Who survives the twists and turns as the pace increases and events reach an unexpected climax?


Dip in to the taster below and see if you can resist reading the whole novel.


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PROLOGUE


From Connections 2 – Hell Has No Fury


Leanne disconnected the call and turned her attention once more to Billy.

“I’m not going to kill you, Billy.  You are my son, and I couldn’t do that.  But you need to appreciate that I have to send out a message. Just one finger: then a photo with bandages.  I’ll make sure it’s quick.”  She nodded again and Billy was given a sharp jab in the arm with a hyperdermic.  “For the pain,” she said. “We’ll wait a moment or two to let it work.”

Billy cried out, but the hood muffled the sound. That moment or two saved Billy’s finger as a dozen armed police with dogs crashed in through the door.  Leanne’s two accomplices were rapidly pinned to the floor with a barking dog standing beside each.  Each man had been bitten and was bleeding heavily from an arm that had been grabbed and held onto by the dogs as they were wrestled to the floor.  Leanne was face down on the floor, hands in cuffs behind her back in an instant.  Billy was released and, wobbly and groggy, taken carefully to a waiting car.  He was not in much pain, despite the dreadful blow he had taken to his hand, because the pain killing injection was now taking effect. He later returned to Australia and settled into life with the girl from the radio station.

Leanne Lane was convicted of abduction, GBH, and, most crucially, being responsible for the murder of DCI Sandy Lane.  She was handed a life sentence. She did not have to be held in isolation as she was popular with fellow inmates, having killed a policeman.  A few weeks into her sentence, Ray Quinn paid her a prison visit.

“I won’t stay long,” he said.  I am just delivering a message for John.  He asked me to read you this:

“Hell has no fury like a woman scorned, but about a wronged man you should be warned.”

John Lomax had discovered that the only way to keep a secret is to never tell a living soul. It’s the only real way to guarantee anything. But it has a price and that price is isolation, loneliness and silence. Isolation is frightening and loneliness is insidious; but silence is different.  It encompasses isolation and loneliness.  It is not quiet because it has a shattering noise all of its own and it gets into your very being.

He screamed his frustration and heartfelt agony.  He knew then that he would be lonely for the rest of his life and that he probably deserved it.  It was the price he would have to pay for Karen’s love turning to hatred and Leanne’s love being scorned.  He had tested the old quotation at least twice and felt the power of its truth for himself.  He fervently hoped that DCI Sandy Lane had felt as lonely and desperate before he had passed on.  It felt particularly strange to be so inextricably bonded to his greatest enemy, and to know that there was no escape from that tie for either of them, even in death.  In his hands he held the ring that Ray Quinn had retrieved from Leanne before the police had taken her away and a mobile phone. He looked at both and considered the trouble they had caused.  He heaved a heavy sigh and hurled them as far as his strength would allow, out from Westminster Bridge and into the murky water of the River Thames.

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The mobile and the ring had hardly caused a splash as they were gobbled up by the river and the dark and gloomy waters mirrored his mood as he gazed down from the bridge.  The current was fast and strong and he felt weak and helpless by comparison.  He gazed down into the impenetrable night at those dark and gloomy waters and they mirrored his mood.  The river had digested the mobile and the ring as if it were a living thing, without so much as a minor splash and it seemed to him that he might as well leap over the railing and follow them.  John Lomax had never felt so alone.

He was totally unaware of anything or anybody around him as he gripped the rail, first with his left hand and then his right.  He stood motionless and for him time stood still.  The rain soaked his clothes but it didn’t matter.  His mind was crystal clear as he recalled the glorious hours he had spent making love with Leanne. He remembered the particular things they both enjoyed and the small murmurings of pleasure in his ear.  Her perfumed smell was with him and filled his nostrils. He could actually feel her touch upon him as if it were real. They were such precious times, such wonderful moments. His heart broke and tears mingled with the rain upon his face.  With an anguished cry he put his left foot on the railing and began to push upwards.

He was lifted up and he felt himself floating, but it wasn’t the water that bore him.  He became aware that he was airborne and being propelled backwards away from the parapet. His head thumped into something hard when he landed and he lost consciousness for a few seconds. When he opened his eyes his head hurt like hell and he was struggling to breath. He managed to sit up, but felt nauseous.

“Sit still, damn you. Don’t struggle.  You’re safe; I’ve got you.”

John Lomax stared up into the face of Ray Quinn, who just looked straight back at him with unblinking eyes and waited for his friend to recover his senses.

“Well, I guess we’re even now,” whispered The Biker. “I’ve got something for you which you need to hear. If you still want to jump after that I won’t stop you. Listen and then decide.  I’ll throw this phone in after you if that’s what you want, but at least listen.”

John Lomax felt a mobile phone being held close to his right ear and heard the voice of Billy Lane.

“John, I am at a loss.  I have lost my Father, but feel no regret.  That part of my life will remain a dark and dangerous black hole and I must now seal it up.  My Mother, however, is another matter.  Although she is lost to me, she is at least alive and this gives me cause for hope. I don’t know how I’ll cope without being able to see her.  You have been such a rock in my hours of need, so I turn to you.  There is nobody else.”

Quinn interrupted his reverie. “Now John, what do you want to do?  I have to tell you there is more, but we need to get out of this rain and away from here.  We don’t want to attract any more attention than we already might have.  Let’s go.”

Lomax noticed that his friend had not given him time to answer his question and before he knew it he was being walked firmly off the bridge and into the darker recesses of a dingy London pub. Very soon after that an unnaturally large whisky sat invitingly before him on the sticky wooden table as he began to read.


BILLY’S HOSPITAL RECOLLECTIONS SENT TO JOHN LOMAX FROM AUSTRALIA UPON HIS RETURN. THESE ARE NOT RAMBLINGS; THEY HAVE A POINT.


At the tender age of ten I had to go into hospital in London. In those days children were often parked amongst adults and I ended up in a men’s ward.  My appendix was removed and so was some of my innocence. At the time we lived quite a way from the hospital, so visits were difficult, especially as I had a younger sister who wasn’t allowed in. I remember being torn between thoughts of relief because I wouldn’t have to tolerate her constant chatter and homesickness because I loved her and missed being at home. I didn’t think it usual to be in such a place for something as mundane as an appendectomy, but I had had a heart problem from birth and thus it was deemed necessary to place me in a specialist hospital on a men’s ward.

Not unnaturally my fellow patients all seemed ancient to me and loneliness gripped me very quickly. I felt small and vulnerable.  That feeling was certainly not eased when I looked around the ward and took stock.

Directly opposite was a grey haired individual who hawked, hacked and spat his way through my first day.  Granted he used a receptacle, but I’d never seen nor heard anything like it in my life. On his left from my viewpoint was a thin bony skeleton which hardly seemed to move.  His eyes, which were sunken into his completely bald skull, also never seemed to move.  He had a sort of fixed, glazed stare.  I did spot him move his arm once, but that was just to pick his nose.

To the right of the hacking man lay a grizzly bear.  He was massive and had tubes and pipes appearing from every conceivable orifice and wires strapped everywhere else. I remember he moaned and groaned a lot, but nobody seemed to take any notice, so he just continued anyway.  Looking back, I think he gained some relief just by doing that.

Beside me in the bed to my right there resided a most peculiar person.  Or so it seemed to me. I couldn’t keep looking at him because I was old enough to have learned not to stare for fear of giving offence or causing trouble.  However, it is human nature to take in one’s surroundings and I wanted to make sure I was safe! He was probably not very old and may have been a perfectly nice man, but he unsettled me by staring back. Surely, I thought, he must know it is rude to stare, but he just kept doing it.  His eyes were a piercing blue; he had a mop of jet black hair on his head and much more of the same on his chest.  He had no tubes or wires and so could move freely whenever the fancy took him, which it did quite often.  I noticed that he visited every patient that I could see from my bed and talked in hushed tones to each.  After such a visitation each bedbound recipient would be agitated and call for urgent assistance.  Thankfully he never visited me, presumably because he thought it not so much a challenge to upset a small boy, but I kept an eye on him.

Immediately to my left was a middle aged chatty man.  He was quietly spoken, read his newspaper and his book and offered me sweets.  I liked him.

The first night was very frightening and I tried not to sleep until I was sure everybody else was asleep first.  I reasoned I would be safer that way.  The plan didn’t work.  The hacking man did not sleep at all; he just carried on with his noisy, juicy expectorations and nobody came to check on him. The nurses had no need of a bedside alarm for him because they knew that if he went quiet they should come running. Skeleton Man, to his credit, moved even less at night. I think he was rehearsing for the time when he would close those staring eyes for the last time. However, he woke on my first morning, picked his nose as usual, and just lay there waiting patiently for the day to unfold. Grizzly actually slept all night, although I still don’t know how.  He snored and roared his way through the night, with his tubes and wires bouncing around and upon him.  Again, the nurses paid him no heed, presumably employing the same principal as they did for Hacking Man. Old Blue Eyes was actually strapped to his bed at night.  He had obviously made too many visitations and the nurses didn’t want to be disturbed.  Actually, I realise now that the way each patient was treated at night was individually tailored to ensure the nurses were not needed at all.  Very clever, I thought. My chatty, book reading friend to my left was the man who discovered the real reason for this and shared his secret finding with me.  He had, he told me before lights out, discovered that the doctors and nurses were playing a real life game of the same name during the wee small hours and made every possible arrangement not to be interrupted.  Why my newly found friend should think a ten year old would be enriched by this knowledge I couldn’t say, but it had a profound effect for years to come.

My operation took place on the second day of my stay.  I don’t remember much about it as I was asleep at the time.  I was grateful for this because I had not slept at all on that first night.  When I eventually awoke, I noticed an empty bed across the ward and asked my chatty friend about it.  He looked at me morosely and said that Skeleton Man had picked his nose for the last time and was no more. I didn’t respond, but remember thinking that I wouldn’t like to be the next person to take up residence in that particular bed.

One incident that amused me happened on my fourth morning.  By that time I had been allowed out of bed.  Nowadays they boot you out of bed just a few hours after surgery, presumably because they don’t want you getting used to the good life of doing nothing, eating their food and making a nuisance of yourself. On that morning the doctor, accompanied by the terrifying Matron, stopped at the hacking man’s bed and in a voice loud enough for all to hear declared that cigarettes were the cause of his condition, it was not going to improve and would almost certainly kill him.  He went on to advise anybody who was listening, which was everybody in the entire ward, if not the entire hospital, that smoking was sinful and he resented treating patients who ruined their own lives by practising such a filthy habit.  Moreover, he railed, he would in future think twice about treating people who damaged themselves in that way.  That was quite a radical thing to do in those days, but he has turned out to be quite a forward thinker. Anyway, when he and Matron had swept away in a cloud of disgruntlement, a few of us gathered on the balcony to get some much needed fresh air. The balcony overlooked the street and the front entrance to the hospital.  On the opposite side of the road we could see a sweetshop, which obviously also sold newspapers, magazines and cigarettes.  We watched with mild disinterest as people came and went, but our attention was caught by our eminent heart surgeon striding into the shop.  He reappeared a few minutes later with a paper tucked under his arm and stopped on the pavement.  He removed something from his pocket, put it to his mouth and lit it.  With obvious satisfaction he drew a deep breath before exhaling a cloud of blue smoke.  This drew a round of applause from our balcony and, after looking up at his cheering patients, he scuttled away in deep embarrassment. Skeleton Man would have smiled if he could.

Ironically the surgeon had been correct in his analysis and Hacking Man passed away that night.  That meant that two of my fellow inmates had been taken by the grim reaper and it was only my fifth day.  This set me thinking and I realised that if the attrition rate continued at the same pace, it wouldn’t be long before my number was called. Unfortunately I had been told that I would not be due for release until at least ten days after my operation.  I have to admit that I showed signs of panic.  After all, I calculated, I therefore had to somehow survive for the best part of another week and there weren’t that many patients left on the ward in front of me in the queue. Of course, I was relying on the fact that we would be taken in strict order of admittance, but I couldn’t depend on that.

When my mother visited me that afternoon I managed to persuade her that I would be available for release within two days.  She was doubtful, but between us we managed to cajole the surgeon and Matron to agree to the plan with the proviso that I could walk properly, that my eating and toiletry habits had been returned to normal and that I would return to have stitches removed on what would have been the tenth day of being an inmate.  I was overjoyed, not least because it reduced the chances of my maker catching up with me in hospital.  He may have had other plans for me elsewhere, but at least I was giving him a run for his money.  My plan was further vindicated when I awoke the next morning to the news that Grizzly had been taken during the night.  Apparently, even the plethora of tangled tubes, pipes and wires had not saved him. This worried me greatly because I realised that if all those accoutrements had not been able to save him, then what chance did I have with no attachments to protect me? I never did find out what his problem was.

So, six days and five nights had elapsed and three fellow patients had disappeared.  Even my ten year old maths could work out that it was imperative my escape plan worked. When I awoke on my sixth morning I was staggered to learn that all of my previous day’s companions were still present and correct. I reasoned that the odds had been tilted back in my favour a little. By this time I was able to walk reasonably well, although the stitches pulled uncomfortably.  Toiletry habits were returning to normal, or as normal as possible given the awful hospital food with which we were provided.  I had discussed my plan with Chatty Man and he ventured that I was being very sensible because if the law of averages in the ward didn’t get you then the food would. He admitted that he had noticed the mortality rate and was very worried because he was next in line.

As it turned out he was wrong. Chatty Man and I had noticed that my neighbour with the blue eyes, who was strapped to his bed each night, had not had his bindings removed that day and was very still indeed.  As there were no monitors with tell tale beeps that hover over each patient as is the norm nowadays, nobody could tell whether he had just decided to continue sleeping in order to avoid the perils of breakfast or something more sinister had happened.  It was mid morning by the time a diligent nurse took some notice and discovered his unblinking blue eyes gazing up at the ceiling.  Curtains were hastily drawn around his bed, which, apart from cutting cut off my view, was also rather unfriendly, and several other nurses and Matron scuttled into that sanctum.  A senior looking doctor appeared and I heard him make an authoritative pronouncement to the assembled crowd.  I didn’t catch what he actually said, but the meaning was clear from his low rumbling tone.  Curtains were then drawn around everybody’s beds, which annoyed us all as the developing drama had become the highlight of the day and we wanted to see what happened next. As if by magic, when our curtains were removed, Strapped Down Man had disappeared and a freshly made bed stood there, inviting its next victim with its crisp white sheets, neatly turned down to resemble a toothless maw topped by a perfectly laundered pillowed headstone.

Being only ten years old I didn’t know where hospitals put dead bodies, so I imagined another ward which was gradually being filled by my erstwhile companions.  I confided to my chatty friend that I thought they wouldn’t take much looking after and that at least they were avoiding the hospital food, but he didn’t seem to find that funny and returned to his newspaper for quite some time. There wasn’t much time for anything else to happen because I was let out the next day. The most long lasting memory of that hospital stay is something that didn’t happen, rather than anything that did. My father did not visit once. I still resent it. Mum said he was extremely busy with his police work, but I became increasingly aware of his lack of parental interest and we gradually grew apart.  I never forgave him for that, not even when he died. The other memory is that my parents split up during my stay and my father had moved out by the time I arrived home.  I have bitter memories about these things.”

“John, I have bitter memories about so many things.  I have learned much more about dead bodies and people’s motivations in life. I know too much about these things and I have nightmares. Help me to at least have better thoughts and peaceful nights.  I know Mother and you had some happy times and no doubt some fond memories.  Please help me to have some of my own.”